Posts Tagged ‘medicine’


Ground Cinnamon

Topic: Cinnamon

Cinnamonium zeylanicum Nees

Ancient Egyptian: ti-sps

The latest research (1988) suggests the East African camphor, (Cinnamonium camphoria or Ocotea usambarensis) for ti-sps. The constituents of the roots of C. zeylanicum and C. camphora are very
similar, but traditionally ti-sps is taken to mean cinnamon. In the classical texts cinnamon is often comfused with cassia ( Cinnamonium cassia). The Egyptian text may not make thedistinction either. The two are very similar to each other. The C. zeylanicum tree is smaller than cassia, and the quills of the bark are thinner and more fragile. The flavour of cassia is more pungent. Even in a powdered state, the two can be distinguished under a microscope. Prospero Alphini knew the thin quills as quirfa, whereas thick quills were called darsini.

The evergreen cinnamon tree is native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), whereas cassia originated in China and Burma. It was thus imported into Egypt. Cinnamon is a stimulant, digestive and antiseptic. A tea made of cinnamon, water and sugar is widely drunk in the Middle East in cold weather. Another winter drink is made from milk, powdered resin, chopped pistachios and cinnamon. In Europe it is a favourite addition to pudding and cakes, in Mediterranean countries also for a dish including tomatoes, and it is an ingredient in curry spice. The ‘buds’ (immature fruits) of cassia are used for scenting potpourri and for commercially produced sweets and beverages.

both cinnamon and cassia are mentioned in the Bible. The classical sources mention cinnamon as an ingredient in Egyptian perfume*.
Theophrastus, for instance, says that a perfume called megaleion was made of burnt resin and balanos oil to which is added cassia, cinnamon and myrrh: ‘This purfume and the Egyptian are the most troublesome to make, since no others involve the mixture of so many and costly ingredients. To make megaleion. they say, the oil is boiled for 10 days and nights, and not until then do they put in the resin and the other things, since the oil is more receptive when it has been thoroughly boiled’ (Concerning Odours vI .30).

There is no record from pharaonic Egypt of cinnamon having been taken internally for any purpose. But there are prescriptions for cinnamon unguents, where the characteristic sent and antiseptic qualities would be appreciated:

An unguent to sooth the members: kohl 1; wax 1; frankincense 1;
cinnamon 1; dry myrrh 1; ox fat 1; sweet moringa oil 1; to be used as a poultice for four days.

A remedy to make grow: carob pod pulp(?) 1; beans1; cinnamon 1; oil or fat 1; honey 1; is ground together and the [the member] is bandaged therewith.

A remedy to heal every effluency: goat’s fat 1; wax 1; fragrant gum1; cinnamon 1; fresh moringa oil 1; is mixed and applied to the effluency until it is healed.

A remedy for destruction of an eating ulcer on the gums: cinnamon 1; gum 1; honey 1; oil or fat 1; to be used as a bandage.

Cinnamon,on was one of the ingredients in a suppository ‘ to cool the anus’, made up from equal parts juniper berries, frankincense, ochre, cumin, cinnamon, honey , myrrh, and three unidentified ingredients.

As we have seen, the wood of the cinnamon was used in a fumigation
‘ which one makes to make the smell of the house or dress pleasant’. It may be added that cinnamon is an ingredient in one of the modern day brands of natural toothpaste.

Cinnamon or cassia are the only true spices actually to be mentioned in connection with mummification. Diodorus described how after cleaning the body with palm wine and (unspecified) spices and anointing it with ‘cedar oil’ (probably oil of juniper) and other unguents it was then rubbed with myrrh, cinnamon and other materials to preserve it. What appears to be cinnamon has been found on actual mummies, although the statements cannot at present be verified. A mummy from the 20th Dynasty is described as having ‘a thick layer of spicery covering every part of it…this external covering, which is nowhere less than an inch in thickness and which is interposed everywhere between the bandages and the skin…still retains the faint smell of cinnamon or cassia…but when mixed with alcohol or water and exposed to the action of heat the odour of myrrh become powerfully predominant.’ (0sburn, quoted in Lusas, Anc. Eg. Mat, pp 308-9). Another mummy examined in the last century was also said to be filled with the ‘ the dust of cedar, cassia, etc.’ ( Pettigrew, quoted ibid., p, 309).

Cinnamon was among the items presented to the temples by the king. In a papyrus listing the revenue ceded to the various gods by Ramesses lll, there is frequent mention of measures of cinnamon. Once in the temple, the goods would pass into the hands of the priests who would either recirculate them in exchange for other commodities, or, since they formed the medical profession as well, use it in their preparations of drugs. There I no evidence of it having been burnt in front of the god whose property it was. Th king’s gift to the god Amun included one whole log, 246 measures and 82 bundles. When new feasts were instituted by the king 220 bundles and 155 measures were included among the allowances.

Earlier on, in the 18th Dynasty, when Queen Hatshepsut sent out her famous expedition to the land of Punt in search of incense and spices, the ships were loaded for their homeward journey not only with frankincense and myrrh, but with other fragrant woods, including cinnamon. Wherever the land of Punt may have been located, cinnamon trees did not grow there. Punt was once part of the chain of commerce which spread from the East to Africa and Europe, and cinnamon was one of the costly commodities which made the long journey. In the 19th Dynasty Sethos l also connects cinnamon with Punt when displaying to the god Amun how he has conquered the world: ‘I turn my face to the East, I work a wonder for you… I gather together all the countries of Punt, all their tribute of gum and myrrh and cinnamon and ll the pleasant sweet wood of the God’s land’.

Valley of the Kings. Ramesses III, KV11. Details form the east wall of the third corridor with Ramesses making an offering of incense. The head-dress infers Ra and Osiris. The cartouche was originally Sethnakht’s (his fathers).

Original article:
By Joanna Linsley-Poe
Copyright August 28, 2013

Article reference:
An Ancient Egyptian Herbal,by Lisa Mannich


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This series is based on An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lisa Manniche published in 1989 by The British Museum Press.
For those not familiar with her work, Ms. Manniche is an Egyptologist and author of a number of books including Aromatherapy and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt.

I thought everyone might be interested in the ways food was used as a healing agent in the ancient world, as I have the most information on Ancient Egypt I will start there. I welcome any references on this subject from other cultures.
In subsequent posts I will also add how each of these foods were consumed as well.

Egyptian Lettuce

Lactuca sativa L. Lactuca virosa L.
Ancient Egyptian: L. sativa (‘bw); L. virosa (‘ft)

Lactuca sativa is the variety known in Britain as Cos lettuce, in France as ‘Romaine’. It is also widely eaten in modern Egypt. An oil can be extracted from the seeds.
In the Assyrian Herbal the seeds were used with cumin as a eye poultice. Dioscorides says that the Egyptians called the plant embrosi. . The latex of the older variety of L. sativa was used as a cough suppressant and mild sedative, and even as an anti-aphrodisiac. In ancient Egypt the plant had the opposite connotations. It was sacred to Min, god of fertility, because of its milky juice, reminiscent of semen. It was also related to the god Seth in an erotic context: he became pregnant after eating lettuces on which had been scattered the semen of his rival, the god Horus. Specimens of lettuce seed have been found, and the plant is frequently represented on the monuments, The priests in the temple of Philae were not allowed to eat lettuce.
The word (‘bw), is conspicuously absent from the medical text, but it has been recently been suggested that (‘ft), hitherto translated ‘merlilot’, is indeed the designation for L. virosa. In that case the Egyptians use it for a number of purposes:

A remedy to treat illness in one half of the belly:’ft 1; date juice1; boil in oil or fat and use as a poultice.

A remedy to remove pain in the belly: fresh beef 5 ro; frank- incense 1/64; ‘ft 1/8; juniper berries 1/16; fresh bread 1/8; sweet beer 25 ro; is strained and drunk for four days.

A remedy to expel worm from the belly: ‘ft 1; chaste tree 1; fermented plant juice 1; is combined and eaten. Afterward the patient will relieve himself of all the worms in his belly.

Treatment of any ailment from which a patient might suffer, that is any purulence: Lower Egyptian salt 1; ‘ft 1; is ground in oil or fat and used as a poultice.

A remedy to treat purulence in the ears: ‘ft: ‘ft is mixed with laudanum and poured into the ear.

Chopped ‘ft was thought to encourage the growth of hair if applied. Boiled with other ingredients, such as fermented plant juice, oil, beer, ‘ft and another plant(?), it was used to sooth a cough when strained and drunk for four days.
Finally, it was used in a general pain-killing beverage and another laxitive concoction, as well as in medicine taken for eye complaints.
The Copts used the seeds of lettuce ground with warm water as a worm killing beverage. The latex of bitter lettuce, mixed with honey and opium was used to treat the eyes.
By Joanna Linsley-Poe
Copyright August 19, 2013

Article reference:
An Ancient Egyptian Herbal,by Lisa Mannich


The above pictures are of lettuce depicted on tombs,( most often with the God Min), though for this purpose I did not include him.

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Topic Lettuce

Romaine lettuce


I just have to guess Giorgio Samorini has never heard of Lise Manniche’s book Egyptian Herbal, where one of the plants the ancient Egyptians had was lettuce (variety Lactuca Sative). This book was published in 1989 and gives  a complete list of Ancient Egyptian plants. to quote Ms. Manniche:

Lactuca sativa is the variety known in Britain as Cos lettuce, in France as “romaine”.

 She  would be a good read if you are interested.

The ancient Egyptians used lettuce as an aphrodisiac, according to an Italian researcher who claims to have solved a century-old archaeological puzzle.

Lettuce has been known for its mild sedative and painkilling effects since Greek and Roman times.

It owes its Latin name lactuca to lac or milk, the plant’s bitter white sap or latex, which is mentioned in many ancient treatises.

As early as 430 BC, Greek physician Hippocrates described the opium-like effects of the sap.

And according to Dioscorides Pedanios, a Greek naturalist and military surgeon to the armies of the Roman emperor Nero in the 1st century AD, lettuce would drive out libidinous images of dreams.

Pliny the Elder, in the 2nd century AD, also wrote about lettuce’s ability to dampen sexual desire. He wrote in his Natural History that lettuce is “sleep-inducing, can cool sexual appetite as well as a feverish body, purge the stomach, and increase the volume of blood”.

Yet Egyptian bas reliefs put a different spin on the use of lettuce: the plant appears as an offering to the ancient Egyptian deity Min.

Invariably depicted with a large, erect penis, Min was the god of fertility and sexuality. For more than a century, archaeologists have wondered why a vegetable used to calm dreams was associated with the exuberant Min.

First, find your lettuce

To solve the riddle, Italian ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini, editor of the journal Eleusis of the Civic Museum in Rovereto, identified the type of lettuce represented in the ancient Egyptian bas reliefs.

“I came to the conclusion that it was a wild lettuce, known as Lactuca serriola,” Samorini told the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera.

This wild lettuce is a dandelion-like weed with bitter leaves and comes from the sunflower family Asteraceae, the progenitor of cultivated lettuce, usually called L. sativa.

“The two species should really be only one since there is no good reason to separate the cultivated from the wild. They can easily interbreed and there are no major genetic differences between them,” says biologist Professor Richard Kesseli of the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

First cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, L. serriola can be found throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Canada and the US in the wild, on roadsides and along walls.

Yet it is not easy to recognise it as a lettuce. The plant has oblong, prickly-edged, leaves with a milky sap that runs when broken off.

Next, take the right dose

Samorini tested the phytochemicals present in the latex, or lactucarium, with a series of experiments, and discovered that lettuce has a double, opposite effect, depending on the dose.

“Tests showed that 1 gram of lactucarius induces calming and pain killing effects because of the presence of lactucin and lactucopicrin. At the highest doses [2 to 3 grams], the stimulating effects of tropane alkaloids prevail,” says Samorini.

“This finally solves an ethnobotanical riddle and explains the association between Min and lettuce.”

Typical tropane alkaloids are atropine, hyoscyamine, scopolamine and cocaine.

According to Samorini, tropane alkaloids present in L. serriola can be also found in plants of the nightshade family, such as the legendary mandrake, long reputed for its magic and aphrodisiac powers.

Further tests on the pharmaceutical properties of lettuce are needed to evaluate Samorini’s claims.

The results are intriguing, says Kesseli, but he has doubts.

Original article:

By Rossella Lorenzi



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